When President Obama first ran for the White House in 2008, it was with the promise to turn the page on the presidency of George W. Bush. But for all their political differences, it turns out the American public pretty much view the two men in the same light, according to new polling data.
In the first week of November in the fifth year of their presidencies, Obama and Bush have nearly identical approval numbers, according to the latest Gallup polling.
In fact, Bush comes out one point ahead, 40 percent to 39 percent, respectively.
The Gallup daily tracking poll for November 5th 2013 puts Obama’s approval at 39 percent, with 53 percent disapproving of his job performance.
By comparison, polling for the first week of November in 2005 had Bush’s approval at 40 percent, with 55 percent disapproving of his job performance.
And the negative comparison to Bush’s numbers is potentially worse for Obama than just a tough headline.
As former Bush adviser Matthew Dowd said on ABC’s “This Week,” the real damage lies in the fact that historically low approval numbers often constrain a president’s ability to rebound with the public.
“I think what you have right now is you talked about the floor of the president's approval numbers, which are almost exactly where President Bush's were. Every time you establish a new floor, you establish a new ceiling,” Dowd said.
Noting that Bush’s approval free fall “wasn’t all about Katrina,” Dowd said Obama faces a similar assault from multiple fronts.
"The president's problems have been brewing for a while,” Dowd said. “What the Republican circus did was cover up a lot of the president's problems. That circus that went on with the Republicans for a while. And then once that was over, it revealed a deeper problem with the presidency."
Of course, the most recent numbers don't guarantee that Obama's second term will end up mirroring Bush's, whose approval continued to fall to a low of 25 percent on three separate occasions before he left office. Still, they do place Obama in an interesting historical context when compared to how some other presidents have fared in the fifth year of their presidencies.
Pulling back the curtain further to look at Obama’s approval rating during the 19th quarter of his presidency, Obama places 5th out of the last 8 presidents who served for the same length of time.
His quarterly Gallup approval rating of 44.5 percent places him ahead of Bush (43.9), Lyndon Johnson (41.8%) and Richard Nixon (31.8%). But Obama falls behind Bill Clinton (58.8%), Ronald Reagan (61.3%) Dwight Eisenhower (59.5%) and even Harry Truman (45%).
What might be most striking to Obama supporters is to compare the various challenges faced by Bush and Obama at this point in their respective presidencies. In the fall of 2005, Bush was reeling from fallout of Hurricane Katrina and arguably the low-point of the Iraq War. And while he had successfully won re-election against John Kerry, his approval rating had dropped 13 points from 53 percent since the November 2004 election.
In contrast, Obama has dealt with the continuing drag of a sluggish economy, partisan divisions, which led to a government shutdown, criticism over National Security Administration spying accusations and the recent fallout over problems associated with the launch of the Affordable Care Act.
And as a result of those challenges, Obama has experienced a nearly identical polling drop as Bush, falling a statistically identical 13 points from his approval ratings of 52 percent on election day in November, 2012 .
Of course, nothing is set in stone. Unforeseen events could restore Obama’s approval ratings: The economy could improve, the 2014 midterm elections could boost Obama’s standing and early setbacks of the Affordable Care Act could recede.
But if recent history is any indicator, Obama is likely to find himself in some unexpected and unwanted company – that of an unpopular president he was elected to replace.